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Associated Press

U.S.General Target of Guantanamo Probe

Danica Coto

Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba, in a June 4, 2008 file photo. (Reuters / Brennan Linsley)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - The U.S. air force is investigating a senior Pentagon official who was reassigned last month amid accusations of misconduct while overseeing the Guantanamo war crimes tribunals, according to a former chief prosecutor.

An investigation against air force Brig.-Gen. Thomas Hartmann was recently opened following a complaint from a military defence lawyer, air force Col. Morris Davis told The Associated Press on Saturday.

Davis said air force Brig.-Gen. Steven Lepper first called him two weeks ago to interview him about the complaints against Hartmann. The questions focused on Hartmann's influence on the prosecution of cases, Davis said.

"I'm optimistic that this current round of investigations will lead to something productive," said Davis, who quit as chief prosecutor in October 2007 after clashing with Hartmann.

Defence lawyers and human rights groups have accused Hartmann, who supervised the prosecution of enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay, of lacking neutrality and pushing for prosecutions that would captivate the public for political gain, even before the detainees were ready to be charged.

The Los Angeles Times first reported the investigations of Hartmann on Saturday.

It said both the air force and the Department of Defence's Office of the Inspector General have launched separate investigations into Hartmann's conduct.

Joseph DellaVedova, a spokesman for the Pentagon's Office of Military Commissions, said it was an air force investigation and declined further comment.

"It's an ongoing investigation and inappropriate to say anything until it is complete," he wrote in an email.

The investigation shows that serious questions remain about the fairness of the commissions, said Jennifer Daskal, a lawyer with Human Rights Watch.

"The Department of Defence has absolutely refused to clean house," she said. "This may be the final straw. We'll have to wait and see."

Hartmann was appointed director of operations, planning and development for military commissions in September after serving as the commissions' legal adviser. The move took him away from direct supervision of the prosecution.

Two judges had previously barred him from acting as legal adviser for a lack of impartiality, and military colleagues have said he was abusive and unprofessional.

Among the cases he was barred from acting on was that of Canadian Omar Khadr, with a judge ruling last month that Hartmann had created the appearance that he would be "unable to remain neutral and impartial."

Khadr, 22, has been held for six years in the U.S. prison in Cuba. He is accused of throwing a hand grenade that killed an American medic after a firefight in Afghanistan in 2002 when he was 15.

His trial is set for January.

Daniel Dell'Orto, the Defence Department's acting general counsel, has previously credited Hartmann for his effort and dedication in driving the commissions process forward.

Davis said the new investigation was opened following complaints from defence lawyer air force Maj. David Frakt.

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